Water Water – episode sixty six

[start at episode one]

Research gets results

knowledge-1052011__340Out in the corridor she closed the door behind her, knowing that the Margrave wouldn’t want his son to see him like this, and called to Edgar.

“Have you finished?” he said as he appeared round a corner. “I hope you’ve cheered him up a bit, he’s been so glum lately, ever since you went away in fact. It’s better now though isn’t it, now you’re back?”

Laura couldn’t bear to think about what was about to happen to them all but she didn’t feel sad.  Seeing Edgar’s trusting face, and thinking about how the Margrave seemed to have given up, enraged her. She wasn’t going to just sit about and wait for the flood, she had to try and do something.

“Can you take me to the entrance near my flat please?” she asked.

“Which one was that?” Edgar sounded doubtful.

“In Queens Wood, you took me there before.”

“Oh yes, after you fell down the drain.”

“Yes.”

“No problem, follow me.”

Soon they were in the disused plant room, at the bottom of the rusty ladder, and she remembered the way home.

“I can manage from here.”

“Okay. See you soon Laura,” and Edgar was gone.

At least she hoped she could manage. The iron cover above her head was stiff and awkward, but with a big push she was able to work it loose. A narrow shaft of daylight shone down onto her and she stopped her efforts. It had been night the last time, what if someone saw her? She debated for a few seconds and then gave another heave, she couldn’t afford to wait the hours until darkness, she’d just have to take a chance.

There was no one there as she climbed up into from the shaft, but a runner jogged into view as she was putting back the cover. She stood up hastily, grabbing a stick from the ground and poking at the undergrowth.

“Dropped my phone,” she muttered towards the runner, but he ignored her, headphones on and eyes fixed on the path ahead.

When she reached Muswell Hill she didn’t go straight to Kings Avenue as she’d realised she had no way of getting into the house. Mr Angelou at the shop had a spare set of keys so she went there first. He asked after Mrs Patterson, worried as he hadn’t had any orders to deliver. Laura apologised and told him she’d gone to stay with a great niece out of town, and when said that she’d locked herself out he handed over the keys without asking any more questions.

The front door took even more effort to open than usual, such was the pile of paper behind it. Laura poked at it with her foot but it was mostly leaflets and local freesheets that she could tip straight into the recycling bin.  Unable to leave complete disorder, she extracted the proper post and stacked it neatly on the bottom step before heading up to her flat.

The air was stale inside and she flung open the windows. She opened the fridge, and then quickly shut it again as where previously there had been milk and cheese there now appeared to be an interesting science experiment going on.

Water and black tea it was then, and biscuits and crisps to go with it as she’d found two unopened packets in the cupboard. She took the meal of sorts to the table, where all her papers were still spread out, covered in a layer of fine dust. She’d decided to look through it all again, from start to finish, hoping that the answer might still be in there somewhere.

Laura organised the papers into various piles to ensure she didn’t miss anything. She flicked through the collection of recent news stories, but didn’t expect any breakthroughs there, they just confirmed what she already knew – changes in the water and the happenings out at sea. Those papers went into an ‘out’ pile on the floor by the radiator, leaving a bit more space for her to spread out the rest across the table.

The big research projects that she’d worked on in the past had taught her there was always plenty to be gained from going over the historical background to recent events. It was not just in songs that history was always repeating itself, and so she mapped out a rough chronology and started at the beginning.

It was several hours and much black tea later that she found what she was looking for, and thought at once how obvious it was and how she should have spotted it sooner. Towards the bottom of her stack of information on the great flood of 1953 there were two short sentences, tucked away at the end of a periodical article from a few years after the event: “Out of this disaster came the plans for a barrier to ensure this can never happen again. Construction of the Thames Barrier is expected to commence sometime after 1970.”  The Thames Barrier, that was it. If Laura could get the barrier raised before the flood surge came, the city would be safe.

She looked at her watch, eight thirty, too late to do anything now, she would have to wait until the morning. At least that would give her time to work out what on earth she was going to say.

Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book

Advertisements

Water Water – episode sixty five

[start at episode one]

No good news

 Edgar had gone scampering ahead while Cara walked with Laura, happy to have a chance to chat to the lady from above once again. Laura smiled when the girl admired her clothes as even by her own standards they were plain and dull – whatever would she think if she saw Rani? They reached the lit part of the Riverways, and before long they were approaching the Margrave’s chamber. He was waiting for her with Edgar beside him, and though he greeted her politely he was obviously concerned.

 “It is lovely to see you again Laura, but you should not be here. Joseph told me you were somewhere safe.”

 “Have you spoken to him?”

 “Not since he left here with you, but I have been kept informed as you know.”

 “Of course you have, it was you who gave permission for me to go out for lunch.”

 “And now you are out once again.”

 “So it would appear.” Laura tried not to sound too annoyed. “And I have come here to get some answers please.”

 “Then I think we should sit together,” the Margrave gestured for her to follow him into his room.

 Laura nodded gratefully when he asked Edgar and Cara to fetch something to drink, but remembering what there had been to eat at the Gathering, she declined the offer of food. Edgar soon returned with two glasses of something red and sweet smelling. She didn’t know what it was but drank the cool, refreshing liquid anyway.

 The Margrave asked Edgar to leave, and shut the door behind him. He didn’t take the seat behind his desk, instead settling himself into one of the two armchairs. Laura sat in the other and got straight to the point.

 “I need to know what’s going on. Joseph has disappeared off who knows where and no one seems to have heard from him,” she paused, “you haven’t, have you?”

 The Margrave shook his head and Laura continued.

 “I’m not stupid, I can see something is happening to the water, it’s starting to smell like the Sussex seaside out there. I get that you thought I was in danger and that those, those others would come for me again, but they haven’t. I made it here safely enough, and I want to know what’s going on. I know about their deadline, is it something to do with the full moon? When is that exactly, and what did it all mean, what’s going to happen?”

 The Margrave sighed heavily. Laura had never seen him look this way, a downcast figure dwarfed by the big old chair, and it chilled her to the bone, but she looked him in the eye with her steady gaze. After thinking for a moment he decided to talk to her. Why not? There was no one else, and no time left for it to matter.

 “You are right Laura, the water is changing. This is all part of their intention, their plan to take the inland waters and make them their home. They will come at full moon, which is not tomorrow night but the one after.”

 “What will happen when they come?”

 “They tried to call it a Rising, when our people will have their time again, but it is not just they who will rise.”

 “What do you mean?”

 “In order for this to happen, the waters must rise too.”

 “I remember, they told me. Will it be like a flood?”

 The Margrave nodded, “more than a flood.”

 “But how?”

 “They will cause a tidal surge to push up the Thames, like the Severn Bore only many times higher. It will be sudden and unexpected, the city will be inundated.”

 “And its population decimated.” Laura’s heart was beating wildly and her mouth was dry. “What will happen to you, when your friendly cousins do this?”

 “They are not our friends, not any more. One or two of us may survive, adapt, rediscover how to live the way we used to under the water, but only a few.”

 “And the rest?”

 “We will drown with you.”

 The Margrave looked small, and old and utterly defeated. It would be the end of him and his community for ever as the city above them, her city, faced annihilation.

 “Is there nothing you can do? Talk to them, persuade them?”

 “I’m afraid it has gone beyond that now. I sent a legation, Jorn and Arne, to try one last time to reason them but they have not returned, perhaps it was a mistake to think they could travel such a distance.”

 “Or perhaps they got there and it didn’t turn out well. I take it you haven’t told the rest of your people?”

 “No. What could I say to Edgar and Cara and the rest. I have failed them and I am bringing the end.”

 “But it isn’t your fault.”

 “Isn’t it? If I had done more when they first approached us, helped them to find a safe haven, then it would never have come to this. As they see it they are simply trying to save themselves.”

 “But at what cost?” 

 Laura pushed herself up out of the chair. The Margrave did not get up, he just stared bleakly ahead, his hands clasping and unclasping in his lap. She had got the information she’d come for, but it was not what she’d wanted to hear. Now what?

 “I’m so sorry,” he said finally. “Edgar will show you out, just call for him when you leave.”

 “Good bye then,” she took the Margrave’s cool hand in her own and clasped it tight for a moment. What else was there to say?

Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book

Water Water – episode sixty four

[start at episode one]

Return to the water

thamesLaura felt like such a fool, why on earth hadn’t she tried this before? But perhaps they would have tried harder to stop her before, maybe now all this time had passed the threat to her really had receded. Replaced, she thought as she headed for the nearest tube, by a much bigger threat to them all.

Laura knew where she was going, sort of. She had looked up the Thames tide timetable online, and worked out how to get from the flat to the river.  She emerged from the Underground in a street she recognised from her drive into the City with Joseph. How long ago that seemed now. Undeterred she made her way to the riverside and the pier. It was still early and there was a while to wait for the first tourist boat. She bought a ticket with money she’d borrowed, stolen really, from Mrs Patterson’s purse, and felt horrible for doing so, but needs must she told herself. Now she stood on the pier, looking down at the water through the gaps between the wooden slats.

 “Don’t look down, you’ll get the fear!”

Laura jumped at the voice, but it was only the attendant trying to make a joke. She smiled weakly at him, relieved to hear his walkie talkie crackle into life with some unintelligible instruction that sent him scurrying back into up the ramp to the ticket office. She watched the river warily but there was nothing moving on the water until the riverbus came into to view. There weren’t many tourists at this time of day, and she was able to sit in the same seat as when she’d been on it with Joseph. She wanted the view to be the same, to be sure of recognising the place she was looking for.

The boat made steady progress downstream, and Laura remembered lots of the sights that passed by the window. She remembered too how she and Joseph had chatted, how he’d taken her into his confidence and told her about the world of the Riverways. And look where that got me, she thought, but then she sat up and cupped her hand against the water streaked glass to try and see better. Yes, that was definitely the place, there was the wooden jetty with its stretch of exposed muddy beach beneath. She stood up and made her way to the front of the boat, ready to disembark at the next pier on this bank. The stop couldn’t come quickly enough, and she was thankful to be the only one getting off.

Once she’d reached the road, Laura paused for moment. They had hailed a taxi last time, but she’d only taken a small amount of money from Mrs Patterson, so she would have to walk. She may not have spotted the alleyway from a moving vehicle in any case, it was narrower than she remembered and she almost missed it even on foot. At the bottom was the wrought iron gate. She felt through the bars for the catch but her hands were not as strong as Joseph’s and she couldn’t move it at all. Frustrated she kicked at the wall beside her, and then looked up. The gate wasn’t that tall, ten feet maybe, and she could squeeze her feet between it and the wall and stand on the hinges. The mortar was worn away between the stones of the wall creating some perfect hand holds. With a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure she was unobserved Laura started to climb, and in a couple of minutes she was astride the gate. Realising at this point that she hadn’t fully thought the operation through, she was forced to simply drop down on the other side and landed awkwardly on the top step, grabbing the gate so she didn’t fall.  

She steadied herself and wondered fleetingly how she’d gone from the quiet confines of the British Libray to this. The steps led down to the muddy shingle where they’d found Edgar and Cara. A few yards to the right was the drainage outflow and the tunnel into which Joseph and the two youngsters had disappeared leaving her to collect the van. This meant, or so she hoped, that it must be an open entrance to the Riverways. Laura was determined to find some answers, and it seemed to her that this might just be the only place she was going to get them.  

Sitting on the bottom step while she plucked up the courage to make her next move, Laura wondered what was different to the last time she’d been beside this stretch of river. They had been in a panic then of course, racing against the sun, but that was not it. She took a deep breath and then she realised, it was the smell. It didn’t smell the same, and now it reminded her of something, a distant memory from childhood. Closing her eyes she let her mind wander and then it came to her: holidays in Littlehampton – she could smell the sea.  

Laura stood up at once, there was no time to lose.  The river was not as low as the last time she had been down here, and the little beach was narrowing as the tide came in. She didn’t really want to have to wade across, so it was now or never. She jumped down from the step onto the mud which was firm below her feet, and cautiously picked her way across to the tunnel entrance. 

It was cool inside and dark, getting darker with every step away from the opening. She walked close to the wall, her hands brushing the smooth Victorian brickwork and keeping her steady. Soon she couldn’t see anything at all, but she continued slowly, placing one foot in front of the other and using the wall as her guide. Could that be a faint blue glow ahead? She wasn’t sure, but then the wall beside her suddenly stopped and she almost stumbled. Reaching out with her hands she realised that a side tunnel was branching off to the right. What should she do now? She had no idea which way to go so there was only one thing she could do.  

“Hello? Is anyone there?” 

Laura turned slowly in a circle, calling in all directions, but the faint echo of her own voice was the only response. Then she realised that spinning around in the pitch dark had been an error: she now had no idea which way she was facing, and if she’d wanted to retrace her steps she couldn’t.  

“Hello?” she tried again, “anyone, hello?” 

There was not even the faintest glimmer of light, but then she heard a noise, could it be footsteps? The hairs on the back of her neck stood up in alarm as she had the sudden sensation she was no longer alone and this had probably been a terrible mistake. Pointlessly she closed her eyes and whispered into the darkness. 

“Hello?” 

“Laura, is that really you?”  

The voice was right beside her and she leapt back with a startled yelp, straight into six inches of cold water and banging her shoulders against the wall. There was a bit of a kerfuffle and then a welcome pool of blue light glowing from a torch.  

Once her eyes adjusted she could see it was Edgar holding the torch, Cara beside him, both of them staring at her curiously.  

“What are you doing here?” asked Edgar. “Father said you’d gone away.” 

Laura climbed out of the drainage channel without daring to look at exactly what she’d stepped into.  

“I had, sort of. It’s your father I’ve come to see. This was the nearest way in I thought I could find. I remembered it from when…” she tailed off.  

“From when you and Joseph had to rescue us,” Edgar finished the sentence for her.   

“We were in such trouble,” Cara grinned. “Sorry if we frightened you Laura, we’re not really supposed to be down this way but we like to keep an eye on things and we thought you might be an intruder.” 

“Intruder?” 

“She’s trying to make it sound exciting,” Edgar said, “when what she actually means is that we were just checking for blockages, and animals.” 

Laura looked suitably alarmed. 

“But don’t worry, we didn’t find any. Come on, we’ll take you from here.”

Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book

 

Water Water – episode sixty three

[start at episode one]

Laura makes a move

Laura had been watching the new moon grow larger with each passing night, and finally she made a decision – she was not going to stay in this gilded prison any longer. It would be full moon again in only a few days and she wasn’t going to sit around and wait for Joseph to ride to the rescue. She was going to do what she should have done in the first place, sort it out herself. Laura turned her back to the window and faced the bed. What a waste of time it had been clinging onto that night as if it meant something, it was up to her to get on with it, on her own.

 At first light Laura packed a few things into a small bag. She’d charged her phone (just in case) and deleted all the messages that had accumulated on it. No she didn’t want to upgrade, buy more minutes or phone a friend for free. She knew of course that Mrs Patterson could not physically restrain her, but up to now her mere presence had been enough to keep Laura in the flat. Not any more, and though she didn’t think Harry or Colin would have the nerve to try anything, she’d have to be quick and decisive just in case.

 At seven she opened the door of Mrs Patterson’s bedroom and peeped in. She couldn’t leave her without saying anything, she would worry, maybe blame herself, and that wouldn’t be fair.

 “Mrs P? Are you awake?” The old lady stirred but did not wake.

 Laura took a small step towards the bed and tried again. 

 “Mrs P, wake up, it’s me, Laura.”

 “Are you alright?” Mrs Patterson struggled to wakefulness and tried to sit up. She reached for her glasses and saw Laura in the doorway, silhouetted against the light from the hall, fully dressed and holding a bag.

 “What are you doing?”

 “I’m so sorry, but I just can’t stay here any longer. I have to get out there and try and do something.”

 “No you mustn’t, please my dear. Joseph asked me.”

 “But Joseph isn’t here is he? He’s nowhere to be seen or heard in fact, so I really don’t think what he says matters any more. I don’t want you to worry, but there’s nothing you can do, I’m leaving.”

 Laura turned away from the bed before she could see the look on Mrs Patterson’s face. Her landlady just watched her go in silence – she knew couldn’t stop her, and in truth she had half expected this moment.

 Neither of the guards was on the landing outside the flat so Laura knew they must be down in the lobby. If she called the lift its wheezing and clunking would wake the dead, let alone Colin and Harry, so she hunted for the stairs. The first door she tried opened straight onto a ten story drop. Laura swallowed hard and closed it again, very carefully. Heading down the corridor she passed several more doors that she presumed were for the other flats, and then finally at the end one with a little green sign alleging that it was the emergency exit. She opened the it very gingerly and was relieved to see stairs. 

 Reaching ground level she spied Harry, sitting on a stool, head leaned back against the wall and eyes closed. Not asleep though, a polystyrene mug of coffee steamed beside him and a newspaper sat on his lap. Laura tiptoed past, feeling like a naughty schoolgirl creeping out of a dormitory.

 “Where do you think you’re going?” Harry opened one eye.

 “Out.”

 The other eye opened. “Come on Miss, you know you have to stay here.”

 “You can’t make me.”

 “No, I can’t.”

 “Exactly.” Laura was slightly taken aback. “Exactly,” she repeated. “You have been protecting me I know, and that’s very nice, but I am leaving now.”

 “He said this might happen.”

 “Who did?”

 “Never mind. Can I come with you?”

 “No you can’t. I’m sorry.”

 “I’m sorry too Miss. Please be careful.” He tore a corner from the newspaper and scribbled on it with a stubby pencil. “This is my mobile number. Just in case.”

 “Thanks. Will you look after Mrs Patterson for me?”

 “Of course. She will be staying here for now I think, for when you come back.”

 “Right. Bye then.”

 “Good bye Miss.”

 And that was it. She was free.

Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book

Water Water – episode sixty two

[start at episode one]

Joseph finds a leadhighlands-and-islands-2400066__340[1]

In Scotland a week went by, but Joseph made little progress. So much for the precious book being updated, so far it had led only to dead ends. Literally dead in a couple of cases and he’d crossed out the names, carefully writing ‘deceased’ beside them. He was sick of the rain, sick of the tiny hire car that gave him cramp after half an hour, but most of all he was sick with worry that he might fail.

He’d tried to plan a sensible route but it still seemed to involve hours of driving through the spectacular but desolate scenery. He knew he was rapidly running out of options as he headed east to a small fishing village on the coast north of Aberdeen. At least there appeared to be two possible names in this area, written side by side in the same spidery handwriting as if they were linked. As he drove up the narrow high street he saw a white wooden board saying ‘rooms’ hanging below the sign at the pub and he decided to stay the night here.

Joseph found a place to park on the empty forecourt of a long closed petrol station. He grabbed his bag and hurried down the deserted street through the rain, wondering as he approached if this was such a good idea after all. The pub was the width of a single shop front with a narrow door opening straight off the pavement. The windows were above head height and streaked with rain on the outside and a greasy film of grime on the inside. As he walked into the gloom he half expected a roomful of sinister locals to turn and stare, but in fact the bar was empty. Despite the dirty windows the pub was clean and tidy and Joseph leaned on the polished wooden counter and waited for a minute. When he heard rattling noises coming from what he presumed was the kitchen he called out

“Hello? Is anyone there?” 

Immediately the door behind the bar swung open and a woman hurried through, rubbing her hands on a tea towel. She smiled apologetically. 

“I’m sorry to keep you. We don’t get many in at this time so I was tidying the kitchen. What will it be?” 

“I was actually after a room please,” Joseph smiled back. The woman reminded him of Jeannie, which he took to be a good omen.  

“Of course, I’ll get the keys and show you what we have. I’m Claire Ross.” 

“Joseph Singer. Is this your pub?” 

Claire came out from behind the bar and led Joseph to a door set into the wall beside the dart board.  

“I’m the landlady, yes. Now, you get one key for this door – be careful if they’re playing – and another for the room.”  

Behind the door was a narrow flight of stairs, and at the top a small landing with 3 numbered doors.  

“They’re all empty just now, so maybe take the one at the back – it will be the quieter.” 

She opened the door and showed Joseph into a small room with a double bed pushed up against the wall. There was a dark wooden wardrobe with carved legs in the shape of animal feet, and a heavy chest of drawers sat beside the bed. A second door led into a tiny bathroom with just enough room for a toilet and shower.  

“This is perfect, thank you. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, a couple of nights probably. Can I let you know?” 

“Of course. Will you be wanting breakfast?” 

Joseph declined, and handed over enough cash to cover the first night. The landlady went back downstairs and he sat for a moment on the rather saggy bed. He hoped that this stop might be the last, if he could get anywhere with either of the names, and then he could go back to London.  

He set off on foot to the first address in the book which turned out to be the very last house in a terrace of fishermen’s cottages at northern end of the village. The houses stood in an isolated position on the road out of town, and as he approached Joseph could see that their back gardens ran down to the cliff edge, windows looking straight out to sea. The rain had finally stopped and bursts of sunlight were breaking through the clouds. Most of the houses had washing lines running the full length of the gardens, and sheets billowed like sails in the strong breeze.  

Checking his book one last time Joseph rang the doorbell. He wasn’t sure if it had worked so he raised his hand to knock when the door suddenly opened. A woman stood in front of him holding a bag of clothes pegs in one hand and a small child in the other while a fat black Labrador tried to push past to see who was there.  

“Hello,” she said pleasantly, “can I help you?” 

“I’m looking for Gordon James, does he live here?” 

In an instant her face changed and she put down the little boy, shooing him and the dog back into the house, “go on in, go to Grandpa and I’ll be there in a minute.” She took half a step outside and pulled the door to behind her before turning back to Joseph, “what do you want him for?” 

“I need to speak with him. It’s very important.” 

“I bet it is. Well you’re too late, my husband is dead.” 

“I’m sorry.” Joseph didn’t like to ask but he had to find out more, “what happened?” 

“Last winter there was a big storm, he drowned, along with two others. Occupational hazard when you’re out on the boats.” 

“I’m sorry,” Joseph said again and glanced down at the book. “I don’t want to trouble you, but I don’t suppose he ever mentioned Cameron Irving did he?”  

The woman’s face hardened and she immediately stepped back into her hallway and tried to shut the door, but sensing that she was hiding something Joseph blocked it with his foot.  

“Please,” he said, and then he heard another voice from inside the house. 

“Who is it at the door?” 

“No one Grandpa, he’s just going,” the woman called behind her, then she opened the door just a fraction wider. She glared at Joseph and hissed angrily under her breath. 

“You listen to me, we want nothing more to do with all that. Gordon is dead and that’s the end of it.”  

“Please,” Joseph repeated, “it’s very important.”  

Over her shoulder he could see an old man shuffling down the hallway towards them so he raised his voice, “if you change your mind I’m staying at the Swan tonight.” He removed his foot from the door and she shut it in his face.  

That evening he sat up at the bar in the pub, ignoring the half dozen other customers and staring glumly into the remains of a pint of beer. He picked at the steak pie Claire had put in front of him but he didn’t feel like eating, so he downed the last of his drink ready to head up to bed. He felt a draught from the street door opening but didn’t bother to turn around and look, so he was surprised to feel a tap on the shoulder. Beside him stood an old man, out of breath and leaning heavily on a walking stick. Fingers twisted by arthritis reached out to grip his arm and Joseph leaned in to hear as the man spoke to him in a low voice.  

“You came looking for Gordon?” It was the grandfather from the cottage. 

“Yes.”  

“He’s dead.” 

“So I understand.” 

“He was the last of his line, but Cameron Irving still lives.” The old man pressed a piece of paper into his hand before turning away and walking slowly towards the door of the pub. 

“Thank you,” Joseph called after him, and then he added “can I drive you home?” 

But the old man shook his head, and without a backwards glance he opened the door and stepped out into the night.

Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book

Water Water – episode sixty one

[start at episode one]

Back inside

window

The walk back to the block of flats was over all too soon. Laura made the most of every second, drinking in the sights and sounds of the city, as well as the feel of the sun on her back. She had a horrible feeling that she would be expected to stay cooped up in the flat for a while longer. It was interesting to see the block from the outside in daylight. She’d hardly been in a position to notice much about it when they’d first arrived that night.

She remembered Joseph saying something about it being unfinished, despite the luxury inside the flat she was occupying. Now she could see that the outer structure was complete – windows were in and there was no scaffolding.  Most of the panes of glass were covered in plastic however, and a tangle of cables lay on an open balcony that had no balustrade or guardrail. She asked Harry about it as they picked their way across what was presumably supposed to have been the garden to reach the boarded up doors. He told her what he knew about the foreign owners, and how the block had been left standing empty while the litigation rumbled on.

“Did SSS do the scaffolding?” she asked.

“Yes, but Mr Singer took it all down as soon as he smelled a rat. There’s a court order now stopping anything being removed from the site. Not that there’s much to remove, apart from all the fancy stuff in that show flat of course, but I don’t think anyone even remembers it was fitted out. No one ever came to look round as far as I know.”

They had reached the lift and Harry rode up to the tenth floor with her.

“Are you making sure I go inside?” she asked him.

“I’m just doing my job Miss.”

“Of course, I’m sorry,” and she opened the door and went in.

A wonderful smell greeted her, two smells in fact. A bunch of freesias sat in a glass on the table, and there was something baking in the oven.

“Did you have a nice lunch?” asked Mrs Patterson who was peering into the oven.

“Yes thank you. You’ve been busy.”

“Not really. Jeannie called in – she brought the flowers and a cherry pie, ready to go straight into the oven so I can’t take any credit. There are some new dvds too, they’re on the coffee table.”

Laura flopped down onto the sofa. There was indeed quite a collection of films and tv box sets piled on the low table, enough to occupy a fair amount of time. Her face fell, she was going nowhere.

Slowly the days passed, and Laura sank into a depression. The battery died on her phone and she didn’t recharge it. She couldn’t be bothered to watch any more dvds and spent most of her time gazing out of the window or trawling the internet for clues to what might be happening. There was an odd incident in the Mediterranean, the so-called rip tides again, but she wasn’t sure that proved anything. Then Thames Water issued a water quality alert and sales of bottled water shot through the roof, share prices in soft drinks companies continued to climb and the news websites and bloggers speculated about the cause. Conspiracy theories abounded blaming variously global warming, evil corporations and naval exercises. If only they knew, thought Laura.

Mrs Patterson had endless patience, putting up with Laura’s increasingly fractious moods, remaining calm but firm. There were still the discreet phone calls, who to Laura didn’t know, but not Joseph that’s for sure. He was obviously long gone – so much for him saving the world.

Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book

Water Water – episode sixty

 

[start at episode one]

It’s good to talk…

chipsAfter taking a moment to collect herself Laura tried to explain, as much as she could anyway. All she really wanted to do was to protect Rani from what might be coming.

“Something has happened, is happening really, but I can’t tell you about it. I know this will sound barmy but you have to just take me at my word. I’m not ill, but everything is not okay either. I can’t stay at home so I’ve gone somewhere with Mrs Patterson.”

“Why can’t you go home? Is someone after you? Did you miss a payment?!” Rani was teasing again but then she saw the look on Laura’s face.

“It’s not about money, but I am hiding, sort of. Oh this must seem so ridiculous, I know.”

“It’s nothing to do with that man who phoned is it? He didn’t hurt you?” Rani sounded angry now, and Laura knew her friend wouldn’t hesitate to ride into battle for her if she thought there was a fight to be had.

“He didn’t hurt me, not like you mean anyway. He was there, but now he’s gone, and he’s not the reason for all this.”

Rani could tell instantly that there was something going on with this man, and that it definitely wasn’t like the little incident with the sleazy map guy, but she knew better than to pry when it was something really sensitive so she let it drop.

“So you’re sort of in hiding but you can’t tell me why. Where are you staying or is that a secret too, and are you coming back to work?”

“I can’t tell you where, no. And I’m not coming back to work, not for now anyway.”

“Are you in danger here, today, then? You’re starting to worry me now Laura, this all sounds too weird, not like you at all.”

Laura glanced through the window of the café where Harry was nursing a large cup of tea and making short work of a very delicate bacon sandwich.

“No, I’m not in danger here.”

Rani spotted Harry, who immediately tried to turn away and knocked over the cup, spilling tea all over the table.

“A body guard? Is this for real? Not that he seems particularly menacing…”

Harry was now frantically mopping up the tea with a paper napkin and looking very flustered.

“He’s not exactly a body guard, but he did come with me, just in case.”

“In case of what?”

Laura didn’t answer Rani, and instead moved on to what she really wanted to talk about, getting her best friend out of the city and away from danger.

“Think of me as being on holiday. Talking of which, Rani you’ve not taken much leave this year have you?”

“Only a few odd days, I was waiting for a big adventure to come along, but it never did. You know I was hoping that Gerrard would whisk me off somewhere but he decided he rather whisk Russell off instead – didn’t see that one coming –  and then I’d half been thinking that we might do that big trek in Peru you and I talked about last year…”

“I’m sorry, we will I promise, some day. But now is your chance to get away, it would be a really good time to take some leave, go on a trip somewhere, somewhere abroad.”

“Right now? Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“Yes now, or at least by the end of next week.”

The waiter interrupted them, bringing their food and drinks on a large tray he held high in one hand as he squeezed between the tables and chairs. He arranged everything on the table, just about managing to hide his distaste as he put down the two bowls of chips.

They picked up their forks and dug straight in. The chips were perfect: hot, salty, crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Rani could see though, that Laura’s head was elsewhere as she ate, and after a few mouthfuls she asked her another question.

“Is it because of all this?” She nodded her head towards Harry, not really believing what she was seeing and hearing.

“Yes. I can’t tell you why, but please believe me when I say it would be really good if you were far away from here.”

“Bloody hell Laura, you’re serious aren’t you?”

 Laura simply nodded.

“Well,” Rani thought for a moment, “I do have my cousins to visit. I reckon I could go there for a couple of weeks, maybe three at a push. Work should be okay – Clive’s back from his honeymoon and now we’re not starting that reshelving project I should be able to take the leave.”

“Where are your cousins?”

“Switzerland. My aunt works for the UN in Geneva.”

“Switzerland would be perfect,” Laura said. It’s landlocked, she thought.

Harry left the two women as long as he dared, but when he could see their plates had been cleared and their glasses were empty he made his way over to their table. There was no need to pretend any more, Laura’s companion had winked at him several times over the course of their meal. She was so striking, everyone on the terrace had noticed her, even before she put up that pink parasol when she’d finished eating. Even though she was so totally different from Laura they were obviously good friends and he was glad to see her relaxing, just for a while.

But now it was time to go. He didn’t know what the deal was exactly but he had his instructions – keep her in your sight, no one to go near her, take her straight back to the flat. If he had any more tea he’d need the loo, and he couldn’t watch her from inside the Gents so it was definitely time to move. He sidled self-consciously up to their table, hoping not to draw too much attention.

“Sorry Miss, time to go I think. I’ll wait over there,” and he made his way across the decking to the exit.

Despite their earlier conversation, Rani could still see the funny side and found this most amusing.

“Okay Miss, we’d better pay the bill then hadn’t we?” she grinned.

Laura was suddenly mortified, “I don’t have enough money!” she exclaimed. She was so excited to be getting out into the real world that she hadn’t even thought about going to the cash point. Her purse was in her bag but all it contained was a couple of pounds in small change and her Oyster card. Her bank cards were at home, or at least she hoped they were still there.

“Don’t worry, it’s my shout,” said Rani, beckoning over the waiter. He brought the card machine with him as well as the bill, and Rani paid, making sure that no tip was automatically added to the total.

“You can leave the tip,” she said to Laura, “if you don’t think he was too snooty. Personally I wouldn’t leave him a bean.”

Laura tipped the coins from her purse onto the little silver tray that the bill had sat on. She was always too kind not to tip, however dodgy the service. Before she stood up to go, Laura grabbed her friend’s hand and looked at her, Rani could see the dark shadows under her eyes and the expression on her face and it chilled her.

“Rani I mean it. I know this all sounds unbelievable but promise me you’ll take that leave, promise?”

“Any excuse for a holiday,” Rani replied, knowing she sounded flippant when really she felt the opposite. “I promise Laura, if it’s what you want, but is there nothing I can do to help? I can’t bear to just leave you like this, when I don’t know what’s going on.”

 “Knowing you’re out of the way is enough,” Laura managed a smile, before she pushed back her chair and stood up.

Out of the way of what though? Rani thought, as she watched Laura walk away to the waiting Harry.

Can’t wait for next week? Buy the book